The opportunity to observe Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic rehearsing Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony in January 1988 with the composer present was too good to pass up. Yet time and again the 63-year-old piano soloist unwittingly stole the show by virtue of the massive chords, dazzling passagework, and long lyrical lines that seemed to shake from her arms with no effort. The sonority never splintered as it flooded Avery Fisher Hall, yet Yvonne Loriod presided with calm authority, achieving impressively fluid and colourful results with the utmost in physical economy. To watch her was to hear her, and one quickly realised why Loriod long had been Messiaen’s artistic muse.
Loriod, who died aged 86 on May 17, 2010 in St Denis, met her future husband when she was his teenage student at the Paris Conservatoire (they married in 1961, two years after the death of Messiaen’s first wife Claire Delbos), and her prodigious pianism and well-grounded musicianship inspired the composer’s large-scale piano works from the Vingt Regards sur l’enfant-Jésus and Catalogue d’oiseaux cycles to the substantial piano parts in orchestral works such as the aforementioned Turangalila, Oiseaux exotiques, Trois Petits Liturgies de la Presence Divine, and Des canyons aux étoiles. In turn, her own extensive compositional training enabled her to proof her husband’s scores, prepare the piano/vocal edition of his monumental opera St Francois d’Assise, and co-orchestrate his final work Concert à quatre.
Although Loriod frequently performed and recorded her husband’s music, she commanded a large, all-embracing repertoire, some of which is preserved on disc. In 1964 she played 22 Mozart Concertos over a five week period with the Lamoureux Orchestra, and gave the French premier of Bartók’s Second Piano Concerto, learning the piece with only eight days’ notice. A fervent advocate for the music of her time, Loriod premiered the second sonatas of Boulez and Jolivet and Barraqué’s Sonata in concert and on disc. She instilled this duty in her students at the Paris Conservatoire, where she taught from 1967.
“I have all my young pianists playing the young composers,” Loriod told a New York Times journalist. Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Paul Crossley and Roger Muraro are just a few of Loriod’s distinguished former pupils. Loriod is survived by her sister Jacqueline.